When It Comes to American History Knowledge, Only Four in 10 Nationally Demonstrate the Basics, According to Woodrow Wilson Foundation Survey
PRINCETON, N.J. (Feb. 15, 2019) – Only 39 percent in Missouri earned a passing grade on history questions from the U.S. citizenship test. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only in Vermont could a majority (53 percent) pass; in the lowest performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass.
Even more disturbing, only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 nationally were able to demonstrate a basic understanding of American history. Nationally, only four in 10 Americans passed the exam.
Three percent of Missourians scored an A; 8 percent received a B; 14 percent a C; and 15 percent a D on the 20-question survey.
“Unfortunately, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has validated what studies have shown for a century: Americans don’t possess the history knowledge they need to be informed and engaged citizens,” WW Foundation President Arthur Levine said.
“American history education is not working, as students are asked to memorize dates, events, and leaders, which the poll results shows are not retained in adulthood,” Levine said. “Based on our research, this is not an issue of whether high school history teachers are adequately prepared or whether kids study American history in school. The answer to both questions is yes. This is an issue of how we teach American history.
Now it is too often made boring and robbed of its capacity to make sense of a chaotic present and inchoate future. Instead, knowledge of American history must serve as an anchor in a time when change assails us, a laboratory for studying the changes that are occurring and a vehicle for establishing a common bond when social divisions are deep. This requires a fundamental change in how American history is taught and learned to make it relevant to our students lives, captivating, and inclusive to all Americans.”
The top states after Vermont are Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana and Virginia.
The five lowest performing states are: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana at the bottom of the list.
Lincoln Park Strategies conducted the poll for the Foundation. It involved 41,000 interviews among adults nationwide. The margin of error is approximately ±1.0 percent.
These 50-state results, along with the national survey conducted in the fall by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, demonstrate that a waning knowledge of American history may be one of the greatest educational challenges facing the U.S. As a result, the Foundation is launching a major national initiative to transform how American history is learned today, providing high school students with an interactive digital platform intended to make American history more interesting and appreciated by all learners, particularly those who do not see the importance history plays in the now and tomorrow.
Relying on the latest developments in cognitive learning, the Woodrow Wilson American History Initiative will offer experiential learning opportunities such as digital games, videos, and graphic novels. Building on the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s successful HistoryQuest Fellowship professional development program for social students and civics teachers, the Initiative will also provide resources and learning opportunities for K–12 history teachers to improve their instructional practice.